Monday, February 10, 2014

Tools of the Trade

Everything revolves around having the right tool for the job. A mechanic does not change the oil in a car with a skillet and a spoon. A dentist does not drill a tooth with a pickax. A jewelry designer does not close a jump ring with a hammer. At least none of these folks should use those tools for those jobs. I do think my dentist has a pickax. And a hammer.

There are a million articles online and in magazines about the basic tools that any jewelry designer needs to have tucked in their toolbox. In my case, hanging from my Ott lamp like a line-up of wanted criminals that are going to be told to turn to the left at any moment. Once I spy the one that I need, I snatch it off the rack like a shirt in my closet.

While the lineup is terribly unattractive, it serves a purpose for me. I am usually crunched over under the lamp working on a bead board. Having those tools within a half an arm length of my hands is a tremendous benefit to me. I do not have to fumble for the tool, and it is a simple flip of the wrist to hang it back up again right after I use it.

I have made myself get in the habit of hanging them back up instead of letting them lounge around on my workbench like a tourist around a resort pool. I found that by letting them lay around, they get pushed aside with the beads, wires, chains, clay and a million other transient community members. This way I do not need to hunt for them. They are where they are supposed to be.

Your Tool Kit

We all know the must have tools. The chain nose pliers, the round nose pliers, the flat nose pliers and the wire cutters are all on the recommended tool kit list. There are a variety of additional tools that can be included on the “You Make My Life Easier” list. While I use the pliers, loops and cutters the most for general jewelry creation and repair, I have a few other tools that make my finished product look that much nicer while decreasing my frustration with trying to make the wrong tool do the job.

Instead of knocking the oil filter off with a skillet, a mechanic will remove it with an oil filter wrench. They can remove the filter by hand in most cases, but why bother when you can use a proper tool that does exactly what you want it to do? Likewise, why should we tear up our fingers trying to wire wrap a headpin when we can use a round nose pair of pliers and a chain nose pair of pliers to whisk the wire around the pin nice and neat?

Certainly, there are tools that can be used for any number of applications, but there are certain select tools that are worth investing in if you do a repeated job, well, repeatedly.

Favorite Add On Tools – Crimping Pliers

Crimp tools are an absolute must for anyone who beads. If you have ever finished a necklace or bracelet with a crimp bead, you know that there is always that little voice in the back of your head that nags about the security of the piece. Especially, if you sell online.

By crimping the wires together, they should be secure enough to withstand every day wear and tear. However, if you really want to make sure that your crimp bead is securely folded over and really tight, it is best to invest in a pair of crimp pliers. There are several manufacturers of them, and they come in a few sizes and styles.

An economical set of pliers will fold the crimp bead over and then let you position it to where you can tighten the bead closed. It sounds lovely in theory, but if anyone has seen me wrestling with my crimp pliers with my nose a half an inch from the beads will know that it is not always as simple as it sounds. I cannot see the beads or whether I have it in the right section of the pliers, so my crimping is combined with contortions. Thankfully, every set of crimp pliers comes with a cute little instruction sheet that shows where the beads go and how to squeeze them shut for good.

Cheap materials, like the crimp bead, may result in them breaking, so pay a little more for a better bead. Additionally, if you crimp the bead and then go to fold it, you can actually uncrimp it if it is not in the correct position, which can also cause them to break.

The crimp pliers will secure the bead, and it can also double as a crimp cover closer.

Finishing your piece with a crimp cover has to be the easiest way to put a real finishing touch on your jewelry. Those beads can go wonky if they are not closed properly, and I have spent countless hours trying to wrestle one off my design if it went badly. I also have been known to cut the wire and start over. You do not have to do that!! In fact, if your bead goes sidesways, just stop and adjust your crimp pliers at opposite points and gently squeeze it back into shape. It will round back out, and you won’t have to cry.

Beadalon has a great little crimping tool that contains screws and tiny crimp screws. They can be a bit pricey, but if you are completing a $250 necklace, then pricey is immaterial.






Another crimp tool that I have is the Bead Buddy Step Crimper, which is a clever tool that helps you to securely close your crimp bead. It takes a long time to adjust to the trick of making it work, but there are several jewelry designers that I know that would not live without it. Myself, I grab the simple ones from my tool rack/Ott Lamp gooseneck.

We will talk about how to use the crimper in another post.





This bracelet has been crimped and covered for a professional finish. Bracelet by Blue Morning Expressions.


Favorite Add On Tools – Jump Ring Opener

I open my jump rings with whatever tool I have handy. That usually means I have round nose pliers in one hand and either my fingers or my flat nose pliers in another. Then I whip it apart and pop it back together. It is not pretty, and it can be time consuming if I am losing a half a second in production time taking down my pliers and putting them back up again. Time is money!

The proper tool is so simple, it is almost shameful.

It is a small ring – literally, a ring – that slips on your finger. It has two grooves in it, and you put the jump ring in the groove and gently twist. The ring opens, and it closes the same way that it was opened. No pliers are involved, and since you wear it stuck on your finger, it is exactly where you left it.


Favorite Add On Tools – Split Ring Pliers

Sometimes, I make little clay charms for whatever reason. Lately, I have become obsessed with making purse charms, which means I need to be able to connect all my little dangling beads from the lobster clasp in a nice, neat and orderly manner. I have avoided split rings because they hurt my fingers. I hate them. I cannot get them open. I despise keyrings for this same reason. My hands were not meant to try to wrench open a split ring. I have tried sticking paperclips in there, prying them open with a bamboo stick, using a credit card to open them and every other conceivable way that I thought might let me slip a ring on to the split ring. None of these things worked, and I became frustrated and stopped trying to work with them.


A split ring in use to hold two different bead dangles on a beaded bookmark. Bookmark by Blue Morning Expressions.



I saw a pair of split ring pliers at the local craft shop and figured that was my answer to a the split ring dilemma. Sure enough, it is. Now, with this handy tool, I am able to open the meanest split ring that I have. Notice the mean little point that it has on it to shove between those impenetrable rings? It has taken some practice to get it opened correctly, but this is a whole lot better than trying to break all of my fingernails prying open a ring that I want to hang a kitty on.

There are a lot of different tools for different applications. It all depends on what type of jewelry design you do. In my case, I do mostly simple wire work and stringing, but I have discovered that even the simplest application is benefited by using the best tool for the job.






If you see your dentist with a pickax or your mechanic with a skillet, you might want to look somewhere else for professional service.


Julie and Blu

1 comment:

  1. Uh oh, I knew it was time to change dentists. I always love reading about the 'tools of the trade' that are favorites of experienced artisans whose work I admire ;) Thanks, Julie and Blu - great post!